Race Reports, Training, Trekking

Beşparmak Trail FKT Trip Report – Part 2

This is Part 2 of  the Beşparmak Trail FKT Report. Be sure to read Part 1 first!

Part 1 left off at the end of Day 2. Having hiked until nearly midnight the night prior, I was entering the longest day of the journey as my schedule indicated that I needed to cover 63km. It’s about to get real.

For background, trail information, and my schedule, check out my FKT introduction post!


Day 3 – Alevkaya to Yedikonuk

I woke up to my 6 o’clock alarm after having nodded off around 1am, and tried to get all my chores taken care of as quickly as possible so I could get moving earlier than the day before. First things first – foot care.

Although I didn’t yet have any blisters, I was forming some ‘hot spots’ on the backs of my heels and the balls of my feet, so I layered them with KT Tape to avoid rubbing that may lead to torn skin or future abscesses. It worked well, and I continued this ritual each day thereafter.

I then proceeded to pack everything up while trying to scarf down my Protmeal (oatmeal + whey protein powder) breakfast.

Breakfast of champions = Manuka Sport whey protein + oats!
The morning ritual.

At about 7am, I was ready to roll. Here’s my morning video:

Oh boy – I look pretty rough there. You can see from the video that I have a bit of a limp and that my eyes look puffy and tired. I felt fine at the time, but I certainly looked like hell.

As I say in the video, I knew most of this section well – but it doesn’t make it any easier! The first section was 13km to the Antiphonitis Church, which was mostly on a nice and downward-trending jeep track, part of which was paved.

 

After the nice downhill section, the trail went off on single track for 1km down to the Antiphonitis Church.

I stopped just long enough to get some water (they have a spout outside the gate), have a snack, and take a short break. Then it was back on the trail heading toward Tatlisu Pass.

Antiphonitis Church
Goodness in a package.

Once I made it back to where the trail split off 50 minutes later, I followed the jeep track for another 12km along varying grades and quality. Many nice views were had on this section of the surrounding valley.

Tatlisu Pass in unremarkable in the sense that it’s simply a road crossing, but remarkable in that I had to stray from my nice jeep track to skid sideways down a loose and quickly descending bluff to get there. My feet were already pulsing with pain, leftover from the night before I think, and were in no mood for this crap. I went ahead, and made it to the crossing at 13:17.

Time for some energy. Manuka Sport to the rescue!

The next section to Mersinlik Pass was also a route I had run just a couple of times before – meaning I knew the general path but not enough to realize how much more difficult and long it would seem with a backpack. I knew I was running out of daylight, so I made as much haste as I could muster, i.e. not much.

The trail started on jeep track but after about 2km it switched to single track. Almost immediately, while descending a rocky section, I stepped wrong off a boulder and rolled my ankle. My only real fear going into this trip is that something like this would happen when I was out in the middle of nowhere and unable to make it out on my own. Although I had insured myself as best I could with the InReach and cell phone, it would still be a difficult task to exfiltrate me from these mountains if needed. Rolling my ankles is about the only recurring injury I am prone to, but it tends to not be very serious. I have learned over the years to just sort of (pardon the pun) roll with it. If I feel my ankle starting to give, I instinctively fall with it to immediately take the pressure off and avoid a serious sprain or break. I’m usually able to catch myself and land softly without inflicting further injury. It still hurts like hell, but only for a minute. If I sit down and take a breather, the pain subsides rather quickly and I’m able to continue without any further pain or swelling.

Just rolled my left ankle and taking a break until the pain subsides.

Carrying on, the trail was single track for several miles and mostly uphill. Thanks to recent rain, the plants were lush and thriving, leading to massive overgrowth around the trail which made it nearly impossible to discern at some points. Not only that, the shrubbery was riddled with thorns that sliced my legs to shreds, leaving me sputtering with anger. This section also seemed to be never-ending. I knew that it popped out onto a jeep track but never thought it would take as long as it did.

After rolling my ankle, getting cut to ribbons by  vindictive twigs, and falsely convincing myself that this chunk of trail was shorter than it was, I’d had it. When I reached the jeep track at long last, I dropped my pack in irritation and laid down on the trail to calm myself down. I sat there for 20 minutes, collected myself, ate some peanut butter (which works wonders for morale!), and set back off. At this point, I wasn’t even halfway through the day’s distance. Ugh.

The only nice part of this section: the views.

It was 15:30 now, and I still had over 30km to go for the day – it was time to get in the zone. I put in my headphones and cranked up the music, doing whatever I could to distract myself from the pain my feet kept reminding me about.

Wishing I could swap these legs for a fresh pair!

The next 15km was uneventful, save the occasional view and a gorgeous sunset. The route was nicely-groomed jeep track, which would have been perfect for running had my feet been up to the challenge.

I reached the end of that section at 18:00, just as the last bit of light faded away. I still had 23km to go for the day, so I wasted no time continuing toward Kantara.

More uneventful and dark jeep track was in my future. Getting to Kantara Village (just below Kantara Castle) was manageable, albeit slow going. I refilled my water in the village and made my way toward Yedikonuk for the last 16km stage of the day.

This was a real gut-check moment. Although good nutrition had kept me energized all day, I was fading fast. It was 20:00 when I started this section, and given my pace I was on track to be hiking for another 4 hours. My feet were absolutely pummeled and the rest of my body was starting to give in to the torture. My back was aching from the load, my shoulders and arms incinerated from using my trekking poles like a nordic skiier, and I wanted nothing more than to flop down face-first into fluffy mattress. I ran through contingency scenarios in my head – if I stopped here for the night, could I make up the mileage tomorrow if I got up earlier? Do I really need to finish this thing in under 5 days – why not extend for an extra day or two?

In the end, I knew that none of these options were tenable. If I got behind at Kantara, it would offset not only my intended finish time, but also my water retrieval schedule. Because water is almost exclusively available in the villages along the trail and nowhere between, I’d have to make it to the end of the next section in order to refill for the following day. And so, despite my best efforts in talking myself into an early night, I set off into the darkness once again.

It wasn’t long before I was taking my first of many breaks on this section where, as before, I practically laid down on the trail to give my feet some relief. It was all I could do to muster the strength to get back up again.

Wasted.

This segment was entirely jeep track mixed with some tarmac, which was much easier to navigate than the previous night’s terrain. However, the 16km distance felt longer than anything I’d experienced. It was relentless and just wouldn’t end. I tried to avoid checking my InReach because I never liked what it had to say – that I wasn’t as close to finishing as I thought. But sometimes I peeked anyway. I pointlessly argued with it, staring with disbelief that there was still more ground to cover. “This has to be a mistake”, I would assure myself, “there’s no WAY I still have that much left!”. But, as always, the numbers don’t lie and I was only fooling myself. There was one way to get to the end, and that was to put one foot in front of the other instead of squabbling with electronics. And so, I marched on.

Miles and miles later, the glow of Yedikonuk in the distance focused into buildings with discernible outlines. When I could clearly see a minaret from the village mosque, I knew I was close. I started looking around for a place to camp, not wanting to fully enter the village (thus necessitating that I continue through and camp on the other side). I found a nice, albeit rocky, setting just off the dirt road leading to the village, and I tumbled my gear onto the ground to begin setup. I had dinner, rubbed my feet, and shook my head in disbelief about the day I’d just had. I felt a sense of relief as I realized that the next two days would be shorter and, hopefully, easier as the most extreme elevation change was now behind me. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Stats for Day 3:
  • Distance: 41.4 mi
  • Time: 16hr 31 min
  • Avg Speed: 2.9mph

 


Day 4 – Yedikonuk to Eleousa Monastery

I was awoken at 0500 by the call to prayer blasting from the village mosque. It felt like I had just fallen asleep, and I promptly rolled over and covered my head with my sleeping bag in an effort to drown out the noise. I ultimately dragged myself out of the tent at about 05:45. My feet had stopped throbbing, thankfully, but they were so swollen that it felt like I was wearing clown shoes.

Overlooking Yedikonuk from my camp spot.

I ate, packed up, and started toward town.

I was completely out of water, so being able to refill in the village was essential. Luckily, there was plenty to be had and I gulped down at least a liter while replenishing my supplies. As I was doing so, a nice old man was walking by with his dog and said something to me in Turkish. I shook my head and smiled to indicate that I didn’t understand, and he said loudly, “Yedikonuk!” and gave me a thumbs-up. I returned the gesture and said back, “su!” (Turkish for ‘water’) and we both chuckled before he continued on with his walk. I knew already that it was going to be a nice day.

Watering hole in Yedikonuk.
Village mosque, AKA my alarm clock.
Downtown Yedikonuk.

As I proceeded through the village, all its children were making their way to the bus stops to be picked up for school as it was already Monday morning. I got lots of sideways looks as I’m sure I looked pretty coarse. It wasn’t long before I was through the village and back onto the farm roads.

I was feeling good so far, so I got back into my shuffle flow to try and get some distance behind me early on. I knew that I wouldn’t get too tired or worn down from the pace but that I was on borrowed time with my feet. They were going to ache no matter what, so I figured I might as well go as far as I can before I’m forced to slow down dramatically.

This section was quite stunning, with rolling hills and verdant farmlands all the way to the village of Balalan.

I didn’t stay long in Balalan, just long enough to get turned around and off track before finding my way back to the trail.

“downtown” Balalan.

The trail climbed up and out of the village for a few kilometers, passing by a couple of farms and an old defunct church.

After that short piece I was in Esenköy, population 58, just long enough to blink.

I was now 16.5km from where I started that morning, and it was only 11am – a good sign that I was keeping a good pace. By now, the worst terrain was behind me but because my feet were in such rough shape I couldn’t really take advantage of it.

The next stop would be Sipahi, 14km away. The trail was similar to what I had been on thus far that morning – a mixture of nice jeep track and tarmac. My feet were starting to chirp so my pace slowed slightly as breaks increased, but this section was rather enjoyable otherwise.

I also passed another trash dump, like the one pictured below, which sadly was not the first I had encountered on the trail.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know how much it bothers me to see this kind of desecration. On my training runs I usually bring a trash bag and pack out as much garbage as I can carry, and seeing this only makes me realize how much work there is left to do. So disappointing.

I bumbled along, passing through Adaçay and waving to locals as I limped by. A couple of them tried speaking to me in Turkish while giving me the palm-up international sign for, “what the hell are you doing?”, to which I always responded with a big smile and a thumbs-up (the international sign for, “I have no idea what you’re saying”).

I made it to Sipahi at 2:40pm, which was incredibly unceremonious. Most sections start and end in villages, and I expected this to be the same. However, the sign indicating I had reached Sipahi was just at a road intersection with nothing else around it.

I was now starting the third and final section for the day while it was still light out, which was a nice change over the past three nights. This segment was much like the others and I was only limited by how much my feet could take before needing a break.

I did, however, come to this point in the trail:

Four directions, zero markings. This was yet again another example of how it was absolutely critical to have the route loaded on my GPS watch. Without it, I had only a 25% chance of choosing the correct direction here, and at countless other junctions along the way. If it weren’t for that, I think I’d still be out there roaming around.

This section was also a bit troublesome because I had run out of water. I had planned to refill in Balalan earlier in the day but decided I had plenty when I passed through. I was expecting there to be some in Adaçay, but it ended up being dry. Up to this point, I had been lucky and found more water along the way than I had expected, but it appeared that my luck had run out here. For the next 16km, I had nothing. However, thanks to proper hydration leading up to this point as well as perfectly temperate weather, I was able to get by without.

The trail followed some very wide and sweeping dirt roads, which I believe were used by mining and quarrying trucks, which were still active in the area.

Although I was feeling alright overall, the frequency of my breaks was increasing. Every half hour or so, I found myself looking for the next opportunity to rest my aching feet, and so this section took significantly longer than others of similar distance.

As the sun went down, I hiked on. At almost precisely 1900, I reached the Eleousa Monastery in Dipkarpaz.

Because it was already dark I have no idea what the monastery looks like, but I’m sure it’s lovely. There is a hotel and restaurant on site, and I walked around the property looking for a water source while trying not to rouse too much suspicion. It seemed like the establishment was open – lights on, TV blaring – but no one appeared to be around. I found a hose in the back of the restaurant and filled my bottles while downing at least 2 liters to make up for what I had missed over the last 18km or so.

Then, I found a nearby side road and went a few hundred feet down to find a camping spot, which I did rather easily. By the time I got settled into my tent it was only about 20:00 – my earliest night yet! Boy did that feel nice.

I caught up with Bryan and Christelle, who would be meeting me at the finish the following day, and then drifted to sleep at a nice and reasonable hour.

Stats for Day 4:
  • Distance: 30.7 mi
  • Time: 13hr 3 min
  • Avg Speed: 2.9mph


Day 5 – Eleousa Monastery to Cape Zafer (finish)

Since I had finished early the night before, I decided to wake up at 0500 and get moving. No need to set an alarm, as the call to prayer from a nearby mosque was happy to provide the service. I had breakfast, packed up, and was on the trail before the sun was up. This was to be my shortest day of the trip (42km), so I was ready to get moving.

I waited until it got light before I made my daily video.

The trail started off on a tarmac road for a couple of kilometers, ending at the entrance to the monastery where I had just come from.

These signs are hilarious.

It then crossed the street and connected to a jeep track that was covered in beach sand.

I guess this explains it!

My first destination for the day was the village of Dipkarpaz, just 9.5km away.

The sun was coming up and the trail was easy – it was shaping up to be a great day.

The only issues I ran into here was that on several occasions, the trail would be following the jeep track and then all of a sudden veer off onto a small, barely-visible side trail going in a different direction. Twice this happened and I simply trudged along the jeep track until I glanced at my watch and realized I was off track, then requiring that I retrace my steps back to where the trail forked. It was incredibly aggravating, as I was in no mood to hike any further than I absolutely had to.

After going along the coast for a while, the trail directed down onto the beach.

After re-emerging from the beach with sand in my shoes, I then passed by one of my favorite places – the Ayios Philon Church, which is said to be one of the last remaining structures from the 11th century  Phoenician city of Karpasia. These folks really knew the right place to build for best views of the ocean. There’s not much left of it now, but there’s a great little minimalist hotel out back (Oasis) with a restaurant that I have stayed at a couple times and love it. The last time I stayed there, though, was when I got incredibly sick during a 90km run with the Cyprus Trail Runners last year, so I spent most of the night in the bathroom. Anyway, it’s a nice place.

I dove into my fanny pack (which was an awesome piece of gear, by the way – highly recommended!) for some snacks, conveniently retrieving my Manuka Sport gels and hydration powder.

Yes, I am sponsored by Manuka Sport – but I also love their products and would have packed them regardless. I’ve tried dozens of gels and powders over the years and these hit all the right marks for me – easy and quick to consume, taste great, and provide more than just fast-burning carbohydrates (i.e. BCAAs & electrolytes too!). If you’d like to give their stuff a try, head over to ManukaSportUS.com   and use code FF9898 for 10% off your order plus free shipping.

So after having a break at Oasis, I continued on toward the village of Dipkarpaz. To get there, the trail follows the tarmac road for about 5km and goes directly through the center of the village. I stopped to refill on water at the Glaro Garden hotel, which appeared to still be closed for the off-season. Luckily, they had a spout in the courtyard that was active.

This was the last water available for the rest of the trip, so I needed it to last me about 30km. As such, I filled to capacity with 3L and “cameled up” by drinking about a liter before leaving.

I then made my way through the village, which appeared to be a mixture of farmland, tourist hotels, and abandoned homes.

There was a semblance of activity in the village center, including farmers who had driven their tractor to town to run their errands.

All signs were pointing toward the finish, but Aphrendrika was the next stop.

The next 15km were uneventful, but annoying. This was the climax of neglected trail, as there were several places which were not only devoid of any markings, but where the trail had been actively blocked. At one point, there was a fence put up to encircle some farmland which completely cut access to the trail. At another, a steel gate was put up to restrict access to the public roadway which the trail followed. These were likely put in place to foil animals (i.e. the wild donkeys), but it certainly slowed me down and caused lots of confusion.

Fence completely blocking the trail. What gives?
Steel gate cutting off access to the trail.

In some sections I found myself wading through hip-high grass and over farm fields, wondering if the trail was actually ever here at all. It was hard to tell.

Mostly, though, the trail was on nice jeep track with beautiful backdrops of lush greenery.

I reached Aphrendrika at noon, which was a nice relief. Once an important city, Aphrendrika dates back to 200 BC. Little remains of it now, but I took the time to poke around a little bit before moving along.

After a short break, it was on to the home stretch. Only 18km laid between me and the finish, and my feet couldn’t wait for it to be over.

Soon after leaving Aphrendrika, I got a call from Bryan and Christelle who had just arrived at the end. They decided they would run back a little to take some photos and then walk the last bit with me, which I thought was a great idea.

For the next 8km or so, it was uneventful. I was chugging along at a consistent pace, finding extra motivation in knowing that I was so close to the end.

With a few kilometers to go, I came across Bryan and Christelle on the trail and was very happy to see their familiar faces. Since I saw them last 4 days prior I had barely seen, much less conversed with, any other person. I spent the next two hours filling them in on every detail from the trip, and because they know the trail very well themselves they understood exactly what I was talking about when I explained how brutal the climbs were and how difficult it was to navigate certain sections.

On this final stretch, we saw lots of wild donkeys which are only on this particular part of the island. Some are so tame they will walk up and beg for food while others, like the one below, stare and snort from a distance to show their dissatisfaction with your presence.

Chatting with locals. Photo by Bryan Peazon.

Before I knew it, the end was in sight.

End of the line – marker behind the guard station.

The trail ends in much the same way as it begins – on a lonely point with a large rock indicating the terminus. As I approached the marker, a giant wave of relief and satisfaction wash over me. For a few moments my feet no longer ached, my legs weren’t sore, and the sun wasn’t baking my skin. I was done. I tagged the rock just before 1600, locking in a time of 4 days, 9.5 hours.

Stats for Day 5:
  • Distance: 28.8 mi
  • Time: 10 hr 28 min
  • Avg Speed: 3.0 mph

I posed for a few photos then sat down to a nice picnic that Bryan and Christelle had prepared for us, cracked a beer, and enjoyed the scenery for a while. After that, we climbed back into the car for our long ride back to Nicosia.

DONE.

Map

Zoom in for elevation and other statistics related to the trip. This was output from my InReach.

Epilogue & Acknowledgements

A week after completing this journey, the pains and aches I moaned about during long days on the trail are completely gone. What’s left is a deep sense of fulfillment and gratitude for the opportunity to complete a challenging goal in such a wonderful environment.

This trip would not have been possible without a lot of help. I’d like to thank Tugberk Emirzade, curator of the Beşparmak Trail, for constructing such a fine route spanning the most beautiful parts of the north coast of the island. Thanks also to Bryan Peazon and Christelle De Jager, who may have been more excited about the trip than me, for assisting with the planning, transportation, and other necessary logistics needed (of which there was plenty!). And finally, thanks to my lovely girlfriend Veronica, who was not only a fine chauffeur but an exquisite cheerleader of my wild ideas. I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by incredibly supportive and dedicated people, all of whom played pivotal role in the success of this trip and many others. THANK YOU!

Final Thoughts

As I said in the beginning, I was hoping to accomplish three things through this FKT: the completion of something new and challenging, a dry-run of my gear and fitness for the start of my AT thru-hike, and attention and appreciation for the Beşparmak Trail which I hope will translate into increased tourism and better maintenance for the path.

While I’m sure about my success on the first two points, the third has yet to be seen. I’ve extensively shared my journey online, and it has garnered interest the from local parties and publications as a result. I aim to spread the word about this remarkable resource as widely as possible, so please feel free to  reach out to me if you can help accomplish this or if you have any questions about the experience. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

This post and my adventures are made possible by both ManukaSport and SNAP Nutrition. Please consider checking out their products and use my discount codes for a break on the price and shipping (FF9898 for 10% off + Free Shipping at ManukaSport and “brandon20” for 20% off + Free Shipping at SNAP). Thanks!

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